Kubulai Khan - GSAVisualarts


Kubulai Khan - GSAVisualarts

Kubulai Khan



Zhao Mengfu,

A Horse and Groom in the Wind

(1280s, Yuan Dynasty: Kubulai Khan’s court)

Zhao Mengfu, the painter of this picture and

the one below of a sheep and goat, was a

descendant of the Song imperial family. For

ten years after the fall of Hangzhou he kept

to himself and his circle of talented friends

interested in poetry, painting, and calligraphy,

but in 1286 he accepted an invitation to to

serve the Yuan court. He quickly gained

favor with Khubilai (as a regular official, not a

court painter) which enabled him to speak up

for Confucian values at court. In the North,

he saw paintings not seen by southerners in

a century and a half, and did much to revive

Tang styles in his painting. Besides paintings

of animals, Zhao did landscapes, bamboo,

old trees, and religious subjects.

Li Gonglin, detail from Five Tribute Horses

Gong Kai, the painter of the painting below was an

extreme loyalist, who had held a minor post under the Song

but lived in extreme poverty after the Mongol conquest,

supporting his family by occasionally selling paintings or

exchanging them for food. What symbolism do you

suppose an emaciated horse carried

Gong Kai (1222-1304), Zhong Kui Traveling with his Sister,


The legend of Zhong Kui goes back to a Tang dynasty story

of Emperor Xuanzong encountering first a small demon who

stole his favorite concubine's embroidered perfume bag and

his own jade flute and then a large demon who came to the

emperor's aid by not only catching the small demon but

gouging out his eyes and eating him. When Xuanzong

questioned this helpful demon, the demon introduced himself

as Zhong Kui, a man who had committed suicide by dashing

his head against the palace steps decades earlier on learning

that he had failed the palace examination. In gratitude for the

posthumous honors the Tang emperor had then bestowed on

him, Zhong Kui had vowed to rid the world of mischievous


Zhong Kui was often depicted in the company of the demons

he had subjugated, as here

Can you think of a political interpretation of this choice of

subject matter

Some scholars suspect that Gong Kai was implying that the

country needed demon quellers to rid the land of the

demon-like Mongol conquers.




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